JuneReport - page 10

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June 2013 CBA REPORT
balanced living
N
N
ew lawyers face all kinds of
challenges in their first year of
practicing law. As a public inter-
est lawyer, the challenges are many. Your
clients are often those most in need of
legal services and you can be in the firing
line of a pro se opponent. For me, one
case during my first year of practice will
always stand out.
I had been sworn into the Ohio bar
for less than a year when I was assigned
a high stakes custody
case, with a high level
of emotional intensity
running through-
out. This case now
stands out as the most
stressful and ethically
thorny case of my
career as both of the
parties were extremely
invested in getting the
outcome they wanted
and would stop at nothing, it seemed, to
get what they wanted.
I represented the mother and soon af-
ter I began representing her, the adverse
party initiated a smear campaign against
me. First, he published a post on his
widely read public blog saying that I had
stolen court records. Then, he published
my home address and Social Security
number, as well as those of some of my
colleagues, on his blog. He filed a motion
for contempt against me, and he threat-
ened to file complaints against me with
the Supreme Court and the CBA Griev-
ance Committee.
I was in way over my head as a new
attorney. I did not have the legal knowl-
edge or the confidence in myself that I
do now. I became so overwhelmed by
anxiety that I was unable to continue
competently representing the client.
Luckily, the case was transferred to
another attorney in my office. However, I
became physically ill from the stress and
stayed in bed for three days. I was terri-
fied that I was going to lose my license to
practice law. Not an ideal thought for a
newly licensed lawyer.
In hindsight, I learned a lot from this
experience. I learned that dealing with
pro se litigants can be a slippery slope.
If an opposing attorney had conducted
himself in such a manner, I would have
had recourse. I could have taken action
via the CBA Grievance Committee or
asked the court for sanctions. The truth
is that pro se litigants are given wider
latitude by courts who are concerned
about access to justice. My experience
has taught me that dealing with pro se
parties requires you to adopt vigilance
about communicating with them in a
way that is respectful, limited in scope,
yet still advocates for your client. This is
not something law school teaches you.
Now, five years later, I refuse to be
scared by adverse parties or opposing
counsel. I am immune to bullying, pres-
sure, or threats. I view these actions as
intimidation and gamesmanship, but I
don’t fear them. I do my job in an unwav-
ering manner. I keep my head and focus
on my client’s case and attempt to get the
result that my client and I decide is best.
The most valuable lesson I learned
was the importance of having a strong
network of mentors both
inside and outside your
office. I was new to Cincin-
nati at the time and did
not know any experienced
lawyers outside of my own
office. If I had, I believe
they would have advised me
sooner that I was in over
my head.
As a result, the profes-
sional development of new
attorneys is extremely important to me.
There is no more valuable resource to
a new attorney facing stress, anxiety,
or depression than a more experienced
lawyer who can listen and give objective
advice. There are numerous resources in
the legal community to help new lawyers
find such mentors. I now strongly advise
new lawyers I encounter to take advan-
tage of the mentoring programs set up by
the Ohio Supreme Court. I also suggest
people become and stay involved in the
CBA.
The Supreme Court of Ohio Law-
yer to Lawyer Mentoring Program is
available to all new Ohio attorneys. The
program is constantly seeking new men-
Finding a Mentor
An Essential Tool for the New Attorney
By Liz Abdnour
My experience has taught me that dealing
with pro se parties requires you to adopt
vigilance about communicating with
them in a way that is respectful, limited in
scope, yet still advocates for your client.
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